“authenticity,” expat life, and (not) going native in France

I’m sitting in Paris, in this biodynamic and organic wine bar (Complètement BIO! Pas de sulfites!), having an extra glass of wine just because I’m in town for a meeting and I’m on my own tonight and why not. I’m reading an Aleksandar Hemon article in an old New Yorker, about how he absolutely owned Sarajevo, he felt like the geography of the place was imprinted on his soul. And then he happens to be out of the country when the siege begins, and then he doesn’t go back for 10 years. He’s losing the geography of his youth and unwittingly overwrites it with Chicago, which happens to be the place where I imprinted….

All the places in his story are my places, and at my moment. I might have seen him walking down the street any time. We overlapped five years, years during which he was engaging, and I was disengaging.

And I know its the three glasses of wine, and Hemon is an awesome writer, but I feel absolutely melancholy about what I’ve given up in leaving Chicago. And yet I can’t quite imagine moving back. When I visit, the geography of my youth is gone, only the street grid remains. Which is sort of what he says, too.

And just as I’m thinking, why don’t I have a home with that imprinted geography anymore why did I give that up? I look up and one of the bartenders is animatedly demonstrating how she wants to add a shelf over the back bar to the other one. In Japanese. Because they’re Japanese.

Why did this Japanese couple open a bar in paris? Don’t they miss home? Are they Parisians now? What does that mean? (Parisian? Japanese? Home?)

If you ask, I’ll tell you: you should go live abroad somewhere for a while. I tell this to all my students, and to any young narrative artist who is curious.

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pastel vasco: almond cake with almond-orange cream filling

pastel vasco For the last couple years, I have posted Facebook pix of Matt’s birthday cake, which is always pastel vasco. In response to a few recipe requests, voila, my first cooking post. I didn’t know I’d be posting this, or I’d have made a bunch more food-porny photos. Too late now, it’s all gone!

Pastel vasco, also known as gateau basque, is the national pie/cake of the Basque people in southwest France/northeast Spain. Matt and I first had it (basically everywhere) in San Sebastian/Donostia (that’s the Basque name for the town) in 2006, and Matt fell deeply in love. Me too, although perhaps not as ardently.  Continue reading

The Beautiful Ones

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In 2009, for some reason, Editions Dargaud (my publisher for the Trish Trash project, as well as the French version of Life Sucks) decided to publish an anthology with Arte TV on the subject of… “Summer of the 80s”. The whys of this decision are unknown to me.

Whatever the reason, I took the opportunity to work with Ron Wimberly on a 5-pager, “The Beautiful Ones.” It takes place at First Avenue/7th St. Entry in Minneapolis in 1983.

Ron arrived for a residency at la Maison des Auteurs a few weeks ago, and it’s made me remember this comic, and to hope we do it again!

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Waiting for Douglas Coupland

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One of my more, ahem, opinion-infused “journalistic” comics—about the (non) appearance by Douglas Coupland at a Chicago bookstore. (more…)

Camille Paglia

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Here’s the strip that started it all: “Camille Paglia” is a report on a talk that she gave at the University of Chicago in 1994, and was the first journalistic/researched nonfiction piece I ever did. (more…)

Godzilla

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A report on the 1995 Godzilla Con in suburban Chicago, first published in the NewCity (Chicago). Featuring Very Special Guest Alex Wald! (more…)

Using Scrivener to create fictional comics

It’s been ages since I started my supposed “series” of posts on how I write, but a few weeks ago during the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême, Alison Bechdel stopped by my studio, and geeking out with her over writing tools was enough of a kick in the pants to get back to things here.

Alison and I have a lot in common when if comes to our love of writing tech.

Alison and I have a lot in common when if comes to our love of writing tech.

Last year, I wrote a post about “visual scripting,” my InDesign drafting technique for comics scripts (based on ideas Alison initially came up with). Since then, I’ve only used it more intensively, and I love it. I totally stand by that post. The process makes envisioning the finished page while writing it so much more transparent.

That said, a huge portion of my writing process doesn’t happen on the comics page, and all that stuff, I do in Scrivener. Continue reading

Ancrages: exposition at la Maison des Auteurs


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Every year, the Maison des Auteurs, where I’m in residence, holds a group exhibition of all the artists who have been in residence that year during the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée à Angoulême (aka FIBD). The opening is the traditional first fun event of the festival, on Thursday night.

I’ve got three original Trish Trash pages up this year, and Matt has several pages from his new story in le Journal Directeur. If you’re in town, come by to see us!

ancrages : l’exposition de la maison des auteurs
30 janvier au 2 février 2014
la maison des auteurs
accès 3 avenue de Cognac
Angoulême

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Big new project in the works: Out on the wire: Ira Glass and radio’s new masters of story

out on the wire first pass new outlineI’ve been dropping hints about this regularly for the last year or so, but here’s the official word: I am at work on a major project on narrative techniques and ideas of the new generation of great American journalists/storytellers on the radio. Jumping off from Radio: an Illustrated Guide, a 32-page comic I did in collaboration with Ira Glass back in 1999 (and which you can still buy via TAL), I’ve been talking to radio people and thinking about radio and story pretty much nonstop since April of 2012.

More on Out on the Wire here. 

The book will be close to 200 pages, and will be out…probably in late 2015, I’m guessing, from Crown Books. I have a lot of comics to draw between now and then, so watch this space for updates on that estimate, or follow/subscribe in one form or another.

My occasional newsletter will have links to recent material, and I’ll probably start a radio-comics-specific sub-list at some point, which you can indicate interest in when you sign up.

Jessica Abel on Twitter

Facebook: this is my “personal” account, but I treat it as essentially public. If you follow me there, you’ll be able to find out when I start a FB page for this book.

and of course, here’s the old reliable RSS for this site.

Pros/cons, ups/downs, love/hate: Life in France after almost a year.

charente nov 2012
I’m not a Francophile. I like France, but I’ve never fantasized about living here. I don’t idolize French food, or the language, or fashion. I decided a few years ago (with Matt, of course) that it would be a good idea to try to live in France, because the comics industry is so strong here, because we have professional connections, because Matt speaks very good French, and because I really need to finally learn to do so too. There are other reasons we wanted to move, but they’re less specific to France: we want our kids to know multiple languages and to have an international perspective. We feel that living abroad, anywhere, is a really good idea for artists. We were trapped in an ongoing stress-fest life in Brooklyn, where we did (a lot) more comics-related work than on actual comics, and we needed to go somewhere cheaper and simpler (this factor does not really point one to France, of course). (More on our decision-making process here.)

So the last few days of August 2012 saw me and Matt and our two kids get on a plane with way too many suitcases and arrive in Angoulême, France.

People say to me, “oh, that just sounds so fan-TAS-tic” in this dreamy voice…you can tell that my story plays into their more-or-less developed fantasy of escape to a romantic other life, where things are simpler and slower and a hell of a lot prettier.  I have this conversation with friends and family over and over: Is it great? Are you happy? When are you coming back? Does socialism work??  Continue reading